Scuba Diving in Belize
Belize is the northern most country in Central America and the only one that does not border the Pacific Ocean. It only borders the Caribbean Sea. It has an international airport which serves 11 airlines originating from the US, Canada, Mexico, and other Central American nations. For the scuba enthusiasts, Belize is the home to three of the four atolls in the Western Hemisphere: Glover’s Reef, Lighthouse Reef and Turneffe Atoll. It also shares nearly 200 miles of a beautiful coastline with The Meso-American Barrier Reef (also called “Great Mayan Reef” or locally “the Belize Barrier Reef”) - the longest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere. This 620-mile-long reef stretches from Isla Mujeres (near Cancun Mexico) in the north to the Bay Islands of Honduras to the south. The atolls and the reef, along with hundreds of sand cayes, coastal lagoons, estuaries, and mangrove forests, together make up the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System. This reef system is home to more than 50 species of coral, over 500 species of fish, and hundreds of mollusk types. Belize is also the home of the famous Blue Hole, a must-do major attraction for any diver wanting to visit this fabulous paradise.
Ambergris Caye is the biggest of the offshore Belizean Cayes. It is the perfect place to stay if you wish to be close to the many fabulous dive sites of the reef system. The local diving from Ambergris Caye is simple. The caye sits less than a half mile away from the shore, for nearly its entire 28-mile length. The proximity to the reef means that most dive sites are only a 5- to 10-minute boat ride away, and most dive boat operators will bring divers back to their dive shop dock for the surface interval between dives.
The formation of the reef is primarily long coral fingers that jut out on the ocean side. These are known as 'spur and groove' reefs and run perpendicular to the coastline. These finger rolls provide a large number of caverns, tunnels, gullies, and ledges. This special reef structure, and the abundant marine life, provides much for scuba divers to explore.
Local divers see many varieties of marine life including small and large reef fish, turtles, sharks, manatees, dolphins, rays, eels, sponges, fans, and so much more. Some of the most popular local dive sites include Tackle Box where reef sharks and the occasional bull shark make for an interesting dive. Love Tunnels has some grand and “romantic” swim throughs, and Mata Canyons, which is a perfect 2nd dive with its beautiful coral formations, a lot of queen conchs, which attract eagle rays and, of course, the ever-present nurse sharks. Ambergris Caye is close to many interesting sites, and marine life, to help beginners build interest and make experienced divers thrilled. In addition, Ambergris Caye is also close to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Hol Chan is located at a cut in the reef and means “little channel” in Mayan. It is often used as a way of accessing the dive sites located outside of the barrier reef south of San Pedro, and is at the center of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. This marine park is protected and guarded against anchoring, touching of the coral, and reef fishing. As such, this area of the barrier reef is in excellent health and full of marine life with tall sections of Elkhorn corals. Hol Chan is popular with divers and snorkelers, but note at this location, there are strong currents. Night dives are frequently done here, by day or night, you’ll find snapper, grouper, jacks, barracuda, rays and much, much more.
Belize is home three out of the four true coral atolls found in the western hemisphere. Heading east-southeast from Ambergris Caye, or east from Belize City, you will find Turneffe Atoll, Lighthouse Reef and Glover’s Reef. Atolls are essentially submerged round corals with some dry land surrounding them. If you desire a dive holiday at a place where there are few people and it’s all about diving, then the small resorts at the atolls might be the perfect locations for you. Alternatively, there are many dive shops operating out of Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, or Belize City that can get there in just 2 hours or less. The reefs in and around these atolls drop off into the deep. The marine life here is truly magnificent. Diver’s will find shallow gardens, vertical walls, canyons with beautiful swim throughs and marine life of all kinds.
Turneffe Atoll is the largest of the three and the closest to the mainland. One of the best dive sites found here is known as Elbow. It is located at the southern tip, and with a large bend in the coral, it is extraordinary site to behold. The furthest from the mainland, of the three atolls, is Lighthouse Reef which circles a 30-mile long lagoon, where the Blue Hole is located. Glover’s Reef is the most distant of the three atolls and, as a result, is the least toured by scuba divers. As a result, the 50 miles of this reef have hardly been visited and the marine life is extraordinary.
The Blue Hole
The Blue Hole should be on every diver’s bucket list. You can’t talk about Belize and diving without mentioning the famous Blue Hole. This giant sink hole is nearly 1,000 feet across and almost 400 feet deep. It is a 2.5-hour boat ride from San Pedro, but worth the time and cost. This extraordinary dive site was made famous by Jacques Cousteau when he brought his research ship to investigate the sinkhole in 1972, where he found, to his surprise, submerged stalactites. The conclusion that Cousteau and his team reached was that the sinkhole was formed before the seas rose.
The dive profile is as follows: first, descend to +/- 138 feet. You won’t see much marine life, at that level, although a few reef sharks and an occasional hammer head may surprise you, but the amazing swim throughs of stalactites for a short eight minutes will take your breath away (not literally of course). You will then take your time ascending along a different route, and enjoy an extra-long safety stop of 10-15 minutes. This deep dive adventure will entice any diver coming to Belize.
Placencia is a southern Belize coastal town, with a charm all its own. One of the main draws of visiting here is the opportunity to dive with whale sharks, the largest fish in the ocean. Whale sharks can often be found offshore in late spring, or early summer, in nearby Gladden Spit. Whale sharks migrate through this area when many different species of fish are spawning, even though the main diet of whale sharks consists of plankton. They will, however, also consume the large Cubera Snapper eggs. During this migration period, the whale sharks are typically relaxed, offering many chances for divers to swim alongside and video these magnificent creatures.